BASSETERRE, St Kitts (CMC) – Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andre Holness underscored the need for closer unity among the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) grouping particularly in an environment of instability and uncertainty.
Holness, who addressed the 30th inter-sessional meeting of the regional leaders here as the outgoing chairman of the grouping, said the region had to survive in a difficult global environment characterised by “increasing suspicion and surges of nationalism and populism” that have put the current international order “under strain”.
“As a region we must remain true to our core principles and we must also act decisively and strategically to seize opportunities that the changing world circumstances present in the interest of the development of our countries and our people,” Holness said.
He said he used his tenure as chairman of the grouping to focus on overcoming the inertia ‘which for too long had characterised our regional mechanisms and significantly impaired our ability to simply get things done.
“It was also important for us to press for progress on matters which would enable the average Caribbean man and woman to experience CARICOM in a real and tangible way through implementation of the free movement regime,” he added.
The Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat said that enhancing regional air and maritime transportation and further advancing the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) that allows for the free movement of goods, skills, labour and services, across the region, will be among the matters for deliberation during the two-day meeting here.
The meeting will seek to further advance “measurable steps” for action on the CSME which were identified at a special CARICOM summit held in Trinidad and Tobago last December.
These included new categories for free movement of persons, the leaders engagement with the private sector and labour, and operationalising the protocol on Contingent Rights which was signed by 10 member states during and since the last summit in Jamaica in July last year.
The Secretariat said that the leaders will also examine recommendations from a Special Meeting of the CARICOM Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) on Transportation, held earlier this month in St. Vincent, which dealt with, among other things the Multilateral Air Services Agreement (MASA), proposals for a regional ferry service and easier security check-in for in-transit passengers. MASA, when implemented, will serve as a mechanism to maximise the economic and social benefits arising from aviation activities for CARICOM air carriers.
Holness told his regional colleagues that it was time for the integration movement to move forward confidently, saying it would be a disappointing “if we do not deliver.
“It falls to us now to ensure that our collective visions are always balanced by monitoring our actual achievements and evaluating our capacities to implement.
“We are getting off the mark has been slower than anticipated we must then lengthen our stride. Even if the wicket is sticky, we must face the challenges bravely with success as our goal,” he said, adding that Jamaica has been honoured to have been entrusted by the region to serve as chair.
The two day-meeting here is being overshadowed by the unfolding political situation in Haiti where President Jovenel Moise, who took up office in 2017 following protracted elections, is under pressure from opposition parties to step down over his handling of domestic affairs as well as the use of funds under PetroCaribe, an oil alliance of many Caribbean states with Venezuela to purchase oil on conditions of preferential payment.
Several people have died since the street demonstrations started earlier this month and CARICOM in an earlier statement said it “is deeply concerned about the continuing violent protests in Haiti, which have resulted in the loss of life, property, destruction of infrastructure and caused grave distress.
In his address, host Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris, who is also the CARICOM chairman, said the grouping was concerned about the unfolding events in the French-speaking country.
“Haiti has played such a pivotal role, pioneering role in the freedom fight for the people of African descent and the people of the region that it will be good if Haiti would again achieve a position of pre-eminence in the onward development of our region,” Harris said.
CARICOM Secretary General, Irwin La Rocque, said the situation in Haiti “is a cause for concern” and that the deaths and violent confrontations that have marred protest action are highly regrettable.
“The Community reiterates its call for calm and a cessation of the violence, and appeals to all involved to engage in constructive dialogue, to respect the Constitution, the rule of law and democratic processes so that issues can be resolved in a peaceful atmosphere and allow for the return to a state of normalcy. “CARICOM stands ready to assist in any way possible to end the disturbances which are destabilising the country,” La Rocque added.